rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

256 years of Rabbie Burns: If the authorities had any idea what he was talking about, they'd round up the Caledonian Society

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

Robert Burns

Today is the 256th birthday of Robert Burns, the now almost entirely incomprehensible 18th Century Scots poet celebrated by the much diluted Scottish diaspora 'round the world as an opportunity for sly subversion.

I realize it verges on sacrilege to admit that in the early 21st Century it's almost impossible to understand what the hell Burns is talking about, but that’s what makes the subversion sly.

If Stephen Harper and his ilk could actually comprehend what Burns's poems were saying, they'd round up the Caledonian Society, make them trade their kilts and sporrans for orange jump suits and send in robotic sniffers to render the haggis harmless.

Instead, they’ve likely been standing about like fools in unaccustomed kilts with the wind whipping uncomfortably around their nether parts, or leastways their tartan budgie-smugglers, whilst sipping from $6,000 bottles of Japanese Scotch.*

It's bad enough having people quote Burns about that mousie to mock the PM's closely closeted personal security measures -- wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie – or to comment on the ability of Alberta politicians generally to plan for an entirely predictable change in the price of oil -- the best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men gang aft agley an'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain for promis'd joy.

But how about this from the self-described "Son of Sedition"?

Ye see yon birkie ca'd 'a lord,'
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that?
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that

That could describe almost any of the boys in short pants from the Prime Minister's Office. I'll leave it to readers to look up what a "coof" is.

Burns may be Scotland's favourite son in 2015, but in the 18th Century when he lived and breathed, he was a rhymin' Rabbie rouser appealing for insurrection on the lines of the French Revolution and inciting direct violence against the class of people, tiny then and now, that Harper tirelessly serves.

And if you think nowadays reading or writing poetry can’t get you in trouble -- leastways, if anyone can understand what the poem's trying to say -- consider the sad case of Samina Malik, the first person convicted under the United Kingdom's Terrorism Act of 2000.

Malik's crime: "Possessing a document or a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." To wit, her own poetry, not unlike that of Robert Burns in some regards, in addition, in fairness, a few hand-to-hand combat manuals and the like.

As an aside about the topic of hand-to-hand combat manuals, with Harper's coming "anti-terror" legislation, subscribers to Black Belt Magazine may wish to prepare by seeking legal counsel. They could be next!

Getting back to Malik, her conviction was overturned on appeal. Just the same, as The Scotsman, a newspaper in Edinburgh, Scotland, observed: "The parallels between Burns and Malik are obvious: radicalized politics; associating with others of a like mind; connections with foreign terrorist groups and a call to insurrection." As Burns wrote:

'Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty's in every blow! -
Let us do or dee

I pity the man who has'na heard the pipes of Bonnie Scotland!

* Someone's certain to write and complain that "Scotch" can only be used to describe whisky from Scotland. This is like saying "champagne" only comes from one part of France and can't be used colloquially to describe any old bubbly from the Okanagan, Bulgaria or the southern reaches of the former Soviet Union. Having your exclusive name used generically by ordinary folks is one of the prices of success. Get used to it!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca. NOTE TO READERS: I will be on the road for a few days. This doesn't necessarily make it harder to file blog posts, but it certainly makes it harder to write them. So commentary on AlbertaDiary.ca may be sporadic (which is nothing to do with sporrans), or even absent, for a few days.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.